Are you exhausted, juggling your children's after school activities, you need a carpool and are going mad? There are options.
Fear not, for you are not alone. There are many struggling parents churning the gas pedal and wearing out their brakes due to frequent stop and go drop-offs. It is even more taxing when one child has an activity and the other does not, but you have to drive a distance to get there.
Some parents hide their frustration. They paste an enthusiastic smile on their face and blow their kids kisses from the driver's seat. Everything is fine. They don't mind being the family chauffeur. The other sibling is an angel, quietly awaiting the next stop, which may include being dragged on errands to several stores. These parents wave their hands in slow motion as they pull away from the curb.
"See you later! Have fun!" they sing out the window.
Some parents are more transparent, but at least they are honest about the situation. They jerk the car into an awkward halt, expressing disgust with each gear shift. No words are exchanged. There is no eye contact. The door slams shut. The car screeches away in a blur.
And then there are many who are just plain old stuck. With gas prices as high as they are, it does not make sense to drive 20 miles to go home only to come back a couple of hours later. So they park the car and force the sibling to accompany them in the waiting area for the duration of the older sibling's activity.
Some children are equipped with a backpack full of distractions, but they complain the entire time.
"Why can't we come back later?" the kid says. "I want to go home. This stinks."
"Do your homework," the parent replies. "Where's your book?"
"Hhmmph," the kid blurts, slumping in the chair.
In some cases, the parent comes equipped with a good book, paperwork or a laptop and gets busy while the child plays games on a phone for two hours.
After observing all of these situations and even experiencing all three at some point myself, it dawned on me that there were options I had not yet considered.
Option 1: The Homework Cafe
Find a nice cafe in the area where you and the sibling can look forward to a relaxing and fun atmosphere in which to work/study and maybe enjoy some snacks later as a reward. Come prepared with productive and enjoyable work for you and the sibling. The child should do homework first, then read or play educational puzzles and games afterwards. If the crowd or music at the cafe is too loud or distracting, bring along a laptop, iPod, tablet or e-reader and earphones to tune into conducive instrumental music on Pandora Radio using the cafe's free Wi-Fi internet access. If this is not an option, try finding the local library, get some work done, read a good book (yes, the kind with a spine and actual pages to flip) and then go out for a coffee/smoothie afterward.
Option 2: Shopping Marathon
Plan all your grocery and errand shopping around your commuting calendar. Try to involve the sibling in the shopping strategy. Maybe he or she will help cook that evening and you can pick up ingredients for the menu together. Maybe he or she needs extra supplies for a project or needs a new pair of jeans. This is a good time to do personal shopping with him or her. Or maybe there are events coming up in the near future and you need to buy greeting cards, gifts or special outfits to wear to the party. This might be the opportune time to just window shop together.
Option 3: Find or Start a Carpool
Chances are, there are other parents at your gym, studio or sports team looking to pair up with other families juggling their kids schedule, but how do you find them? Just start talking to people. Find out where they commute from and ask how they manage. Keep your eyes and ears wide open for the opportunity. A new parent joined my daughter's gym and desperately needed to find a carpool for her 11-year-old because the 40 mile commute was not going to work three times a week without one. So she did the most efficient thing; she asked the coach to e-mail all the team parents inquiring whether other parents might be interested. We quickly became acquainted with another family and have since worked out a three-way carpool that is flexible and offers each of us a one-way drop-off or pick-up option. When one can't make it, usually there is a back-up. We stay in touch through phone texts before and during the carpool. It isn't perfect, but more often than not, the sibling can comfortably do their work and then unwind at home at least half of the time.
Have any other after school commuting ideas? Please share them with us.